How to Screw the Press in One Easy Lesson

Recently, the organization I work for hosted an event with a very important person.  You know him as the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton.  The organization hosted the event, but didn’t put it on.  Essentially the Clinton campaign rented the facility and ran the event.

Poorly, I might add.  I wanted to assess the situation from a PR aspect and figure out what they did wrong, and what I would have done to prevent it.  While a lot of these events are supposedly geared for the party faithful, I think they should be designed for the broader audience, the one that can be reached by the mass media (still reaching more people than bloggers and new media, although the new guys are slowly catching up) and the Clinton camp blew this opportunity.

Let me start off by saying this isn’t a critique of the campaign of either presidential campaign, outside of how this particular event was held.  Let me also state for the record I used to be a big fan of Billy C.

That said, this was the worst example of media relations I’ve seen in my (admittedly short) career.  And I’m not saying that flippantly, as the event took place I was keeping notes in my head about what I wouldn’t do, if I were in the position of the campaign.

The event started off a couple of hours early, with the press standing outside in 30 degree weather waiting for the campaign to get media sign-up sheets to the crowd, so they could then stand around more until an area was set up for them.  If you’re involved in presidential politics, you want to keep the members of the press happy, because a happy press is more willing to listen to your pitches.  You might think this is not important in a presidential campaign, but I heard one reporter tell another “This is ridiculous, I’m going to go and volunteer for the Obama campaign after this event is over.”  So, in clear response to how the press is treated, at least one reporter was ready to go volunteer for your opposition.  That’s not good, especially with the race as tight as it is.

Then once the press was allowed to enter the area they had found that the crack PR team had located them in a little cage-like enclosed area as far away as possible from the president, yet still located on the same level.  The press was the length of a basketball court away from the president, behind the mass of people waiving signs all over the place.  Not a problem for much of the press, they were used to this kind of “press paranoia” I guess and the photographers were packing some serious 300 and 400 mm lenses to get a picture of Billy C. as he spoke.  That’s not the position you want to put the media in, again because they have the capability to spread your message further than you can alone, and why make it hard on them.

(Are you paying attention Darren White?  In your case, you have to at least let the media into one of your events.  Anyway…)

I was tasked with taking pictures for my organization, and suffice it to say, I don’t have 300 mm lenses so we were kinda screwed out of any decent pictures.  And I could understand how some of the photographers without the fancy equipment felt, talk about a waste of effort.

Billy C. got up and gave his speech.  And gave it…. and gave it…. and kept giving it until I wondered when the wind-up rubber band was going to run out .  He’s a great speaker, and it was the first time I got to see him speak live.  But after about 40 minutes I was ready for him to smash his guitar on the stage, wriggle his tongue and scream ‘Thank you Albuquerque, good night!’

According to Mark Bralley at What’s Wrong with This Picture, the photographer from the Trib got out of the media cage, shed his press pass, and started going to different locations throughout the building to get better pictures.  Mark did the same thing, confident in his rights as an American citizen and not allowing the PR team to interfere with his work.

In a moment of clarity, the Clinton campaign’s crack PR team jumped into action.  Harassing the photographer, standing in front of him to ruin his pictures, and trying to get security to “escort” him out of the room.  All the time, the same PR team allowed every drunk 18-year-old frat boy with a cell phone to get better visual access to the president than the media.  I’m sure that didn’t piss them off even more, no not at all.

I know the Clintons aren’t big fans of the media, expressing a fear of the media and a Bushian desire to control media access, but when you step into the public light like this you have to be ready to deal with it.

Yours truly dared to step out of the media cage as well to try and get a decent picture of the ex-president shaking some hands.  Nope, not gonna happen. “Back into the media cage with you.  We can treat you how we like, you need use more than we need you.”

Wrong.  I just go back to what I had heard earlier, “After this I’m going to work for Obama’s campaign.”

The same thing happened to a reporting team for the Guardian of London.  London, England, not London New Mexico.  

What the Clinton campaign needs to do is change their attitude towards the media.  And that needs to start at the top, Billy C. and Hilary need to come down off of their high horse and realize that butting heads with the press.  Yeah they got raked over the coals in the 90’s, some of which was by their own fault. 

One thing I would do is give the press better access, visually at events and afterwards. Now you have people in the press saying they are going to work for her opposition, as a direct result of that treatment. 


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